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Disgrace [Paperback]

J M Coetzee
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 April 1999

After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding.

For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Edition edition (6 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099289520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099289524
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting For the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Emerging from the dissident calibrations of literary voices joined together in the culture of protest against the apartheid regime, the distinctive writing of novelist, critic and academic J M Coetzee has become identified as one of the most finely tuned among contemporary Southern African writers. From the local recognition accorded his earliest novel Dusklands to the international acclaim with which his rewriting of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe story, Foe was received, Coetzee has dedicated himself to transforming South African writing from a blunt weapon of struggle to a delicate and incisive instrument of reflective liberation.

Disgrace takes as its complex central character 52-year-old English professor David Lurie whose preoccupation with Romantic poetry--and romancing his students--threatens to turn him into a "a moral dinosaur". Called to account by the University for a passionate but brief affair with a student who is ambivalent about his embraces, David refuses to apologise, drawing on poetry before what he regards as political correctness in his claim that his "case rests on the rights of desire." Seeking refuge with his quietly progressive daughter Lucie on her isolated small holding, David finds that the violent dilemmas of the new South Africa are inescapable when the tentative emotional truce between errant father and daughter is ripped apart by a traumatic event that forces Lucie to an appalling disgrace. Pitching the moral code of political correctness against the values of Romantic poetry in its evocation of personal relationships, this novel is skillful--almost cunning--in its exploration of David's refusal to be accountable and his daughter's determination to make her entire life a process of accountability. Their personal dilemmas cast increasingly foreshortened shadows against the rising concerns of the emancipated community, and become a subtle metaphor for the historical unaccountability of one culture to another.

The ecstatic critical reception with which Disgrace has been received has insisted that its excellence lies in its ability to encompass the universality of the human condition. Nothing could be farther from the truth, or do the novel--and its author--a greater disservice. The real brilliance of this stylish book lies in its ability to capture and render accountable--without preaching--the specific universality of the condition of whiteness and white consciousness. Disgrace is foremost a confrontation with history that few writers would have the resources to sustain. Coetzee's vision is unforgiving--but not bleak. Against the self-piteous complaints of all declining cultures and communities who bemoan the loss of privileges that were never theirs to take, Coetzee's vision of an unredeemed white consciousness holds out--to those who reach towards an understanding of their position in history by starting again, with nothing--the possibility of "a moderate bliss." --Rachel Holmes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Exhilarating... One of the best novelists alive" (Sunday Times)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully tragic 29 Oct 2009
It is interesting to read the reactions to Disgrace and particularly to its two main characters David Lurie and his daughter Lucy. Most readers seem to have a very poor opinion of Lurie and even those who do not overtly dislike him appear to agree that he is self-obsessed and/or some kind of sexual deviant. Surely it is closer to the truth to say that he is among the most genuinely realistic middle-aged male characters ever created. He is admittedly driven by some selfish instincts but is that not true of all people? Is Lurie not in fact a more admirable person because he understands himself, his desires and impulses? To criticise him is to criticise human-kind, well maybe man-kind and that is perhaps why some people find him so uncomfortable to read. His attitudes towards women form one of the novel's central tensions, the age-old struggle between the sexes. He is not unkind or unpleasant to the women in his life, quite the reverse usually, but he does, to an extent objectify and pursue them, like many men. Coetzee does not try to tell us whether this is right or wrong he simply presents it as fact and gives us the opportunity to think about it, to compare it with our own lives and to try to make sense of it.

In exactly the same way he invites us to consider Lucy's attitude as a white South African woman towards her black male attackers. To some people, including her father, her attitude is inexplicable. Instead of hating and seeking revenge she accepts the offence as some kind of inevitable consequence of the years of apartheid and simply refuses to even criticise her assailants. In complete contrast to her father's instinctive id driven life, she deeply feels the collective sins of her race and is anxious to atone for them.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good writing perhaps, but hardly a great novel 4 July 2010
This is one of the best Booker-prize winners I've read, but that's not saying much. I like Coetzee's writing, but only in a take-it-or-leave-it kind of way; I've never found his books very involving for some reason, a bit too dry, too short of real emotion. This one is no exception.
We have the usual Coetzee themes here, a sort of existentialist look at the struggle that is life. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, a university professor is forced to resign after seducing one of his students and goes to live with his daughter in the country; they suffer at the hands of robbers, life is a struggle (but he still finds a woman to have sex with). C'est la vie.
The bleakness of the story and the unpleasantness of the main character make it a difficult book to like, and we also have to put up with some tedious and seemingly irrelevant stuff about Byron, the subject of an opera that the professor is trying to write.
Although partially redeemed by good writing, I fail to grasp why this book is so highly rated. I get the impression that Coetzee is one of those writers, like Philip Roth, that some male readers of a certain type (they always seem to be male) feel they must praise regardless. Or perhaps I'm just missing something.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Disgrace is set in South Africa and centres on the life of ageing professor David Lurie and his daughter Lucy who runs a small farm in the remote countryside. Lurie embarks on a relationship at work which exploits his position of power, and his questionable morals are thrown into sharp relief by a sinister encounter at his daughter's farm. The book goes on to describe the uncomfortable father-daughter relationship which develops and analyses the behaviour of Lurie, a man at an important junction in his life. It also raises questions about race relations in post-aparteid South Africa, where the cultural divide still seems to be very marked.
I found it easier to pity Lurie rather than sympathise with him, which is sometimes a disadvantage in a main character. However, the writer's understanding of women's nature made Lucy come alive and my empathy for her meant that her actions were easier to understand and justify than Lurie's were. One of the book's strengths is its descriptive passages which allow the reader to build up a good picture of the setting and put the lives and often harsh actions of the characters into context.
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an engaging story. The essence of the book is quite dark, and there is not much to be upbeat about by the end of the novel. However, rather than be depressing, the book encourages you to question where your sympathies lie and seems to be some sort of lesson in moral standards.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak and uncompromising 24 May 2000
By A Customer
This is a depressing read! One by one, the ideals of a modern, liberal society - education, tolerance, justice, dignity - are stripped away. And the thin veneer of civilization gives way to the elemantal and destructive forces that lie not far beneath society's surface. It is interesting that I was left feeling that it was the white characters in the novel who had somehow been abused - that their descent into chaos was somehow more appalling than the lot of the black characters who have borne injustice for generations. Coetzee cleverly plays on our fears of the norm being overturned - however unjust - and induces helpelessness both in his white characters (the 'dogs') and his readers. This is not an enjoyable book, but it is thought provoking.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and multi-layered
Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee
This is a book I would have avoided on seeing its bleak cover, had it not been required reading for the course I was doing. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Suzanne Egerton
5.0 out of 5 stars Read again and again
Though disturbing in events and theme, Coetzee's novel in highly engaging and thought provoking, and one I return to again and again.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
We studied this book in class and it really interested me as it is a very controversial book. Very well written and is about modern day culture. Read more
Published 1 month ago by holly
5.0 out of 5 stars Reminded me of Hemingway at his best...
Disgrace is both simple and difficult. Simply beautiful in its careful but sparse prose. Difficult as it wrestles with harsh and shocking realities in 1990s South Africa. Read more
Published 1 month ago by John Goddard
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrifying
A terrifying book. Shying away from nothing about the problems of man or the problems of Africa at the time. It is an amazing feat to have communicated so much on so few pages.
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Unlikely human reactions
My partner and I each have turns to pick the next book we're going to read - this was his choice. He loves the book; I tried to find what he likes so much in the book but for me... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jenny
3.0 out of 5 stars A strange read
There isn't a character to admire in this novel. Is that the point? It's pretty bleak and you want to scream at the protagonist most if the time. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Peter Groves
3.0 out of 5 stars A book that does not live up to its rave reviews on its cover
The reviews on the cover of this book, if to be believed, suggest that it is a masterpiece, indeed, "perhaps the best novel to carry off the Booker in a decade. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Sally Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars Disgrace
Disgrace is a brilliant book by a brilliant writer. You only have to read the very first sentence to appreciate the writing quality. It's funny, serious, engaging, etc. Read more
Published 3 months ago by David
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking
The fall from academia into the rustic life is reminiscent in structure to many other novels wherein the various pressures of city living triggers the main character to abandon... Read more
Published 3 months ago by RR
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